Tire misnomers

A crew member of Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota works on tires during NASCAR testing for the new track surface at Pocono Raceway on June 6, 2012 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LONG POND, Pa. — Drivers routinely refer to tires as “hard” and “soft,” — hard tires supposedly being the norm for a newly repaved race track such as Pocono.

In reality, that’s an oversimplification, because when Goodyear chooses a tire for a resurfaced racetrack, the primary concern is heat tolerance, not a “hardness” factor. Simply, on a smooth, repaved track, tires retain heat because they don’t wear, and because speeds don’t fall off significantly.

Rick Campbell, Goodyear’s project director of tire development for NASCAR racing, explained the distinction.

“There’s very little wear, and one of our most efficient ways of dissipating heat is through wear,” Campbell told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Repaves are not abrasive, so we don’t get much wear. So we have to have to make sure we have enough heat resistance built into the tire to be able to tolerate a very low wear rate.

“Obviously, grip is a consideration, but heat resistance and the ability to run under those conditions is first and foremost.”

Accordingly, Goodyear made both construction and compound changes to the tires selected for Pocono after an April test on the new surface. The right-side tires Cup drivers are running this weekend are the same used successfully on new pavement at Phoenix International Raceway in February.

“The other thing that repaves present that’s different from most tracks is that there’s very little fall-off in grip over a fuel run,” Campbell said. “So lap times and the doom cycle a tire has to deal with are constant. There’s no relief over a fuel run. They’re not slowing down.”

What that means for Sunday’s race is that drivers are likely to pit just inside their fuel windows for the final run — or gamble and pit just outside the window — and remain on the track for the balance of the race.

With so little fall-off in the tires, sacrificing track position for new rubber typically won’t be a smart move.


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